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Dubai entrepreneur takes property selling a stage further

Mathieu Nakkach was attending home viewings in the most exclusive areas of Dubai when he noticed something was badly wrong with the way many properties were being presented.

Some of the houses, which cost Dh30 million and up, were empty. A few had cockroaches on the floor, yellow grass on the lawn or unfilled pools. Many did not even have any electricity, leaving everyone who was looking around drenched in sweat.

“I was trying to imagine a guy with millions coming here with his wife to buy their new house and this was what they were facing,” says Mr Nakkach, 38, who is half Lebanese and half French from Lebanon.

“So I did a little research and I found something called home staging.”

Home staging is the act of preparing and showcasing residential or commercial property for sale, according to the Real Estate Staging Association (Resa) in the United States.

Resa says, on average, staged homes in the US spend 77 per cent less time on the market. “Staging helps you to secure a contract more quickly,” says The Consumer’s Guide to Real Estate Staging, produced by Resa.

There are no figures available for the UAE, and no association exists here, but the industry is developing and there are companies that rent out everything from furniture to candles, towels and bed sheets for the purposes of home staging. Brokers expect the industry to grow over the next couple of years.

“Obviously, the market has softened and to make your property stand out more and to help it sell is only a positive,” says Leigh Borg, the sales director of Belleview Real Estate Broker in Dubai. “The amount of apartments and villas I have seen where the owner hasn’t even cleaned it properly, and you are trying to showcase that property. In this market you need to show your property in the best light.”

To set up a home staging firm Mr Nakkach realised he would need to invest in a warehouse and fill it with furniture. While he did not have the funds, he did have an idea – to partner with some of the largest showrooms in town, and showcase their furniture in the staged homes.

“The reality is Signature Stagers is a marketing company,” says Mr Nakkach. “I take their furniture and I use it to stage with, so we basically market their showrooms and we market their stock and their brands, as well as market the homes we stage.”

Signature Stagers only stages homes worth $10 million or more, but the service is not cheap. It costs anywhere from Dh150,000 to Dh250,000 per home depending on the property. The open house, which Mr Nakkach calls an “industry event”, that includes live entertainment and food, costs another Dh50,000 to Dh75,000.

It takes about five days to stage a home once contracting work such as painting is completed. The furniture suppliers design the rooms and the home remains “staged” for 90 days.

Mr Nakkach has staged six homes since the company started 18 months ago, the latest of which is a full-floor penthouse with an area of 14,000 square feet in Le Reve, a luxury 50-floor, 80-apartment tower in Dubai Marina. The company tied up with Verzun, a property brokerage and Nakkash Gallery, which supplied the furniture. The apartment had languished on the market for three years when Signature Stagers took it on.

“It was furnished but the furniture was outdated and not matching. And there was wallpaper from 10 years ago with holes in it. The house hadn’t been lived in for three years, so you can imagine the state it was in,” says Mr Nakkach. “We stored everything, ripped off all the wallpaper, repainted and furnished it. It went from an ageing house to a brand new designer home.”

The apartment received three offers at the open-house event held for the property in November, which included a DJ, self-playing piano and 3D virtual reality glasses experience. One of the offers was accepted and is now the subject of negotiations.

If the sale goes through it will be the quickest for a Signature Stagers home, a title currently held by a property in Emirates Hills. That had been on the market for 18 months when it was sold at the open house last summer for the asking price, just 30 days into the staging.

The least successful was an apartment in Dubai last November, which attracted an offer of Dh45m, Dh5m less than the asking price. The offer was rejected at the time but the apartment later sold for Dh25m.

“People turn around and blame the stager [when it doesn’t sell] saying your service doesn’t work, but there are three factors to a successful sale,” says Mr Nakkach.

“One is a beautiful house. I take care of that. Then you need a good agent, obviously, and you need it to be properly priced. If these three are dancing to the same song, then that equals a successful sale and everybody is happy.”

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